The modern account of World War One is that Germany lost to the militarily superior UK and US. But in the 1920s and 30s, that was not the dominant view in Germany, at least not in right-wing circles. The nationalist right revered the army so much that it preferred to blame Jews, liberals, and socialists for the loss, for stabbing the army in the back. In German, it became known as the Dolchstosslegende; in English it’s translated as the stab in the back myth.
The closest equivalent of that in the US is the myths circulated in the right that the US could’ve won Vietnam. Sane military historians note that because the US regarded Vietnam as a limited war, it never mobilized its population the way North Vietnam did. Less sane ones conjecture based on that that the US lost only because of pacifist sentiments.
The same thing is now developing in Iraq. It used to be confined to the fringe right and neoconservative intellectuals, but lately it’s been creeping into the mainstream, to the point that Bush is saying, “We’ll succeed unless we quit” (via Amanda).
While it’s normal for politicians to make excuses for incompetence, even in advance, this does more than that. People who merely make excuses are usually perfectly capable of rational judgment when their asses aren’t on the line. That Bush engages in finger-pointing is as remarkable in politics as that Murtha is corrupt and that McCain is a panderer.
What is remarkable is how Bush sets the blame game up. First, “We’ll succeed unless we quit” not only makes excuses for failure in advance, but also takes some amount of responsibility. A purely selfish finger pointing would leave a way out by saying something like, “The quitters are undermining the war effort.” That would be less stark, but more politically convenient.
And second, Bush not only sets up a dolchstosslegende about Iraq, but also compares it with Vietnam. It’s attractive to glorify the military’s past as well as its present, but it’d be a lot more politically convenient for Bush to say that no analogy makes sense because the US military now is completely different from what it was in 1968 (which it is).
This goes beyond ordinary political maneuvering. It betrays a totalitarian fetishization of military force, and a radical belief that the solution to the problems of extremism is more extremism. The army is after all one of the primary means of totalitarianism; third-world dictatorships that are too weak to use it for wars of aggression use it as a substitute for a secret police (see e.g. here for an example from Zimbabwe). While totalitarian states can work with any army, a large, conscripted army that answers only to the executive and is immune to public criticism is the most useful.
The most famous example of trying to solve the problems of extremism with more extremism comes from Mao’s policies, which culminated in an artificial famine that killed about 30 million people. But the Nazi dolchstosslegende was even more spectacular: faced with the defeat of World War One, the Nazis proceeded to create a juggernaut army and start a mammoth war with unprecedented atrocities, and still lost.
Krugman referred to something completely different when he started tagging the Bush administration as radical, but this is another good example of it in action. Imitating Nazi myths is never a good idea; all it does is replace competence with faith, which tends to produce the same results as in World War Two and the Great Leap Forward.